Top 10 Tips from 9 years in the business of Online Training
The current situation caused by the COVID-19 outbreak is taking it’s toll on almost every sector of the economy. When things get finally back to normal, it will be a different, new normal in many ways. One of these is Online (Virtual Classroom) training.
Avancer Learning Inc has been conducting Online Live Training workshops for over 9 years to a global audience. We’ve conducted hundreds of workshops, for thousands of participants from from Corporate Organizations, Universities, Professional Bodies, Federal and Provincial Governments. And so we’ve learnt a thing or two in our journey.
And so here are some of my Top 10 tips for successful online (live) training in no particular order.
Disclaimer: Except briefly in the point below, for the most part of this article, I am addressing the type of training done through screen-sharing, web-conferencing and online assignments – the kind you can do in GoToTraining.
#1 – Take your time with Technology: Spend a lot of time researching and then choosing your technology platform and your technology partner. This is going to be one of the most important decisions you make.
Once you adopt a certain platform, you will discover limitations, and you will devise workarounds to get over them. These become exit barriers of a sort and tend to lock you in to the platform.
It is in crisis situations when your technology platform provider proves their mettle. When everyone is working from home and servers are stretched to their limits, you want a technology provider that has the muscle and the experience to keep you going.
We use GoToTraining here at Avancer Learning Inc. This article is not meant to endorse any specific platform but if you are interested in why, lookout for our Technical tips on online training coming soon on our blog.
For Live Broadcasts, your Audio-Visual Technology partner can make the world of difference between training that suffices and training that meets its objective.
#2 – The minutes before your start are critical: No matter how many reminders you send to participants, a good many of them will open the training links just a few minutes before the workshop.
That’s when Murphy will hit hardest. A percentage of users will be unable to connect to audio, or not find the dial-in number, or insist on requesting instructions by email all over again. If you have a moderator with you to help, you may be ok, but if not, you will spend valuable time trying to get everyone on-board.
That’s when your pre-event 15 minutes will make a difference. Have a looping presentation that tests audio and video performance, and reinforces instructions, running at least 15 minutes before start time. We catch 95% of the problems this way. You will still have to deal with last-minute entrants but at least it won’t overwhelm you if you are working alone.
#3 – It’s a DV channel: It’s easy to forget that the participants can’t see everything you are doing if webcams are off (I am addressing screen-sharing and web conferencing training and not Live Broadcasts). When you are answering a chat stream, loading a file, or waiting for your computer to respond; participants don’t know if their internet lines have frozen, or they’ve lost audio or you’ve gone away. Seconds can seem like minutes to people at the other end. Describe everything as if you were producing for Described Video, including that sip of water you’re about to take. “Hang on while respond to someone”, or “I’m going to be clicking in the top left hand corner” or “I’m muting my microphone for a second”. This includes repeating or rephrasing every question that you are going to answer.
#4 – Peace and Privacy are paramount: This is somewhat of an individual preference. I like to mute everyone all the time. Many participants join from home environments, and it is very distracting to hear traffic, appliances or pets during the workshop.
I also like to hide my participant list from the class when I am doing open-group workshops (This is more a personal preference). We also find that it makes the training seem much more personalized. I generally display the class list briefly at the start of the class to show people that they are not alone, and then hide the class list from participants. Participants with bandwidth issues join and leave all the time during the class and this gets very distracting to the others.
We also let participants know that webcams are disabled by the instructor – it makes them much more comfortable knowing that their webcams won’t come on accidentally. You can always selectively turn on microphones or webcams when required.
#5 – You will forget to record: I learned this the hard way. Event-time logistics are such that you will forget to record the occasional class. And so I use a reminder splash screen just before the time we have to record and using my Described Video technique, I tell the participants that I’m about to begin recording.
You will still run into an occasional technical problem, (like the one time everything went off seemingly well, till I found that the recorded session had no audio due to a technical glitch) but they will be few and far between.
#6 – Play the part fully: It’s tempting to run a training workshop in your pajamas and unshaven when you are using screen-shares and not webcams and you know your audience can’t see you. But while perhaps many won’t notice, there will be subtle changes that creep into your voice and your energy. Remember you are putting all your energy into your voice and motivating your audience. Having an environment that mimics an in-person training, adds that extra bit of professionalism to the result.
By the way, why don’t I use a webcam? Because for the kind of training I do, for the most part it will only show me looking at the screen and waving my hands when they are not on the keyboard – so no added value!
#7 – Establish feedback procedures at the start: How and when should the audience recognize that the screen is frozen and you are not staying on one screen. People recognize audio issues almost instantly, but recognizing that the screen should have changed takes a bit of time.
Establish ways your audience can recognize this and how they should let you know. Most often these are temporary glitches that a simple screen refresh or a 10 second pause can remedy. The important thing is to get feedback quickly from your audience and to be able to see the feedback in time.
#8 – Interact more than ever: This graph shows a how attention wanes with time, in physical settings and the instructor’s role in keeping people focused. I suspect that this is much more compressed in an online training session due to the numerous distractions in the participant’s environment. So it is doubly important to keep that curve up through interaction.
Depending on your training and your training platform, use questions, riddles, polls, exercises, games or participant action to ensure engagement. Platforms like GoToTraining have built-in tests, quizzes and polls, or you could use third-party software and apps.
#9 – Redundancy is good: Ask anyone who has conducted several hundred hours of online training and they will tell you that Murphy was an optimist. Have redundancies for your critical equipment and then some. Internet Lines, Computers, Monitors, Microphones, and more. We use UPSs for our audio and IT equipment and have an Inverter-Generator to back up the UPS. We even have back up storage for online recordings. Of course, this presumes you’re into online training for the long term.
#10 – Re-purpose: A natural progression from online training is on-demand learning. Every recording you do is immensely valuable. Later you will be able to go through them and carve out little bits that can augment on-demand courses or re-purpose them as promotional items through your website and social platforms. If you’re going to do this, you might want to leave out dates in headers or footers of anything that appears on screen. Time stamps just make content seem outdated really quickly.
Endpiece: This is by no means an exhaustive set of tips. There are many more that are too numerous to list here, some trivial, some too specific to our training, many that I’m sure I’ve missed, and a lot more that I’ve still got to learn.
I’ll end with a reminder to look out on our blog for our post on technical tips and list of helper software, and soon to come checklist for an online training session. Thanks for visiting our blog, do keep in touch and let us know your ideas through the comments.